Homemade Lebanese Knafeh

5 from 252 votes

This Homemade Lebanese Knafeh is a simplified version of the Middle Eastern dessert made with layered shredded dough and mozzarella cheese soaked with syrup

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Knafeh is one of the most popular Lebanese and Middle Eastern recipes after baklava. And it’s actually much easier to make! You only need a handful of ingredients, including shredded dough, butter, cheese, and sugar drizzled with a rose water simple syrup. Knafeh is a wonderful dessert to enjoy during the holidays, and it’s one that I grew up enjoying at special occasions!

Lebanese kanafa cut into squares on a round dish
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With its layers of shredded dough, melted mozzarella, and rich ricotta, every slice of this Lebanese knafeh dessert is a heavenly mix of textures and flavors. Some love it so much that they not only eat it on holidays but also as breakfast – and I totally get why. It’s cheesy, it’s sweet, and you can make it in under 40 minutes. Quick, simple, and utterly delicious!

This was delicious both times I’ve made it! I recently impressed my mom with it! I’m glad I found a quick, easy alternative so that I can make it for myself more often! So good!Sonia Lindert

What is Knafeh?

Knafeh is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert that is made with thin, noodle like pastry. It is sweet and sugary and layered with cheese and chopped pistachios. It is also known as kanafa, kunafa, kanafeh or knafe.

Recipe at a glance

Cuisine Inspiration: Lebanese/Middle Eastern
Primary Cooking Method: Baking
Dietary Info: Vegetarian
Key Flavor: Sweet and Cheesy
Skill Level: Easy

Summary

  • Balanced: The cool thing about Knafeh is how the sweetness of the syrup perfectly balances the cheesy filling. It’s not too sweet, not too savory – just right.
  • Easy to Make: If this is your first time making a Middle Eastern dessert, don’t be intimidated. This Knafeh recipe recipe only needs a couple of ingredients and is very easy to follow. No need to spend all day in the kitchen!
  • Perfect Texture: Imagine that first bite into a perfect layer of crispy phyllo dough, followed by the creamy, melty goodness of cheese… so good! 
  • Great for Gatherings: Knafeh is the perfect dessert to share with friends and family. It’s big, it’s tasty, and there’s plenty to go around. Everyone will be asking for seconds!

Ingredients You’ll Need To Make Knafeh

  • Mozzarella Cheese: To make the recipe more easily accessible, I’m using mozzarella cheese instead of Akawi cheese. If you have access to Akawi cheese, that would be a more traditional choice. I would recommend half and half mixture.
  • Ricotta Cheese: Use whole milk ricotta for the creamiest dessert.
  • Cane Sugar: You’ll mix the sugar with the ricotta and mozzarella to balance off any bitterness from the cheeses.
  • Butter: Use one stick of melted butter to rub the shredded dough. It will give the shredded dough a buttery flavor while helping to brown it in the oven.
  • Kataifi Shredded Dough: This is the most important part of the recipe, and it may be difficult to find. However, it’s common in Middle Eastern supermarkets, or you can also order it online.

For the Simple Syrup:

  • Granulated Sugar: This is what brings the sweetness!
  • Water: The base of the syrup.
  • Lemon Slices: These add a zesty freshness to the mix. Orange slices are a great alternative as well.
  • Rose Water: This gives the syrup that signature floral Middle Eastern flavor. If you’re not a fan, you can leave it out or replace it with a dash of vanilla.
  • Swap butter for ghee. For a nuttier flavor, use ghee instead of butter. Ghee brings a richer, slightly different taste to the Knafeh, and it’s great if you love that extra depth in your desserts.
  • Add some Kunafa coloring. If you want to give your homemade knafeh a more vibrant orange hue, you can add a teaspoon of kunafa coloring to the melted butter. You can find it online or in your local Middle Eastern market.
  • Top with pistachios. Pistachios are a staple in many Middle Eastern desserts, and for good reason! They add a delightful crunch and a pop of color, which is perfect for this homemade knafeh recipe. 
  • Make it vegan. Use plant-based cheeses and butter. There are many great vegan cheese options available that melt well and can mimic the texture and flavor of traditional cheeses.
Kataifi shredded dough to use in the recipe
  • Simple Syrup: You can easily make simple syrup with sugar and water. I also like to add a slice of lemon juice to mine along with rose water to give it a sweet scented flavor.
Making simple syrup with water, sugar and lemon slice along with rose water

How to make Knafeh

The shredded phyllo dough comes in long strands, and it’s always frozen. You want to thaw it to bring it to room temperature and then break it up into smaller pieces in a food processor. It should be about the size of vermicelli. Then you’ll add the butter to the shredded dough and use your hands to mix them well together.

In another bowl, mix the cheeses and sugar together until well incorporated.

Process shots showing the shredded dough mixture getting mixed with butter and the cheese mixture getting mixed

Use your fingers to press the buttery shredded dough into a greased pan. Spread the cheese mixture on top, but you can leave some space all around to be able to check if the shredded dough has browned.

When it’s browned, you can remove it from the oven and invert into another pan that’s about the same size or larger. Make sure to invert the pan immediately when it comes out of the oven. When you remove the pan, you should see a golden brown Knafeh that’s steaming hot.

Process shots showing the shredded dough mixture, then topped with the cheese mixture, and then the pan being flipped

Pour the hot simple syrup over the Knafeh as soon as you flip it over when it comes out of the oven. Pouring the soup while the Knafeh is hot makes it absorb the sweet syrup much faster and that way you won’t need to use as much.

Pouring simple syrup over the finished kanafa

Now it’s time to sprinkle with crushed pistachios. You can sprinkle all over, in a round circle or just in the middle. The only thing left to do is to slice and enjoy!

Sprinkling pistachios on top

Tips for making the best Knafeh at home

  1. Have a second tray the same shape and same size (or larger) in order to flip the Knafeh on to it and serve it in that second dish. If you don’t have two trays that are the exact same size, serve it on one slightly larger than the baking dish since it will slightly expand as you cut into it.
  2. Make sure that the butter is absorbed by the dough. Instead of using a spoon or spatula, I recommend using your hands. Take handfuls of the dough and rub it well between your palms before spreading it on the baking tray.
  3. Do not cover the buttered dough completely with the cheese mixture. Leave the perimeter bare so that you can check for browning on the dough to gauge doneness.
  4. Warm up the simple syrup before drizzling on the Knafeh. That will help the simple syrup penetrate through the dough mixture for the best flavor!

How to store knafeh & reheat

To store leftover Knafeh, let it cool to room temperature, then cover it tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil (or transfer it to an airtight container) and place it in the fridge.

The best way to reheat it is in the oven so it doesn’t lose its crisp texture. Preheat your oven to 350°F, place the Knafeh on a baking sheet, and cover it loosely with aluminum foil to prevent the top from burning. Heat it for about 10-15 minutes, or until it’s warmed through. 

How long with knafeh last in the fridge? Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.

Frequently asked questions

Do you eat Knafeh hot or cold?

I love to eat Knafeh hot, just after it has been removed from the oven, but you can also eat it warm or cold. The sugar syrup should be drizzled over the Knafeh when it comes out of the oven so that it soaks in, rather than adding it when cold.

Can you make Knafeh ahead of time?

There are a couple of options to make this Middle Eastern dessert ahead of time. You can assemble the dish the day before and keep it covered in the fridge and then bake it right before serving. You can also bake the whole dish, let it cool, and the keep covered in the fridge for a day or two. You can serve cold or reheat gently in the oven.

What’s the best way to cut knafeh?

Use a sharp, serrated knife and cut gently. Let the Knafeh cool for a few minutes after baking, as this helps set the cheese and makes it easier to cut clean slices.

Final kanafa recipe sprinkled with crushed pistachios

This Lebanese Knafeh is a dessert that’s sure to steal the show at any gathering. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself coming back for a second helping of this golden, cheesy goodness!

For more Middle Eastern-inspired desserts:

I love serving this dessert from my childhood and my family adore it just as much as I do! It’s so simple to make and the results are delicious!

If you’ve tried this feel good Homemade Lebanese Knafeh recipe or any other recipe on FeelGoodFoodie, then don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave me a comment below! I would love to hear about your experience making it. And if you snapped some shots of it, share it with me on Instagram so I can repost on my stories!

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Lebanese Homemade Knafeh

This Homemade Lebanese Knafeh is a simplified version of the Middle Eastern dessert made with layered shredded dough and mozzarella cheese soaked with syrup
5 from 252 votes
Servings 8 servings
Course Dessert
Calories 276
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
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Ingredients
  

For the simple syrup:

For the Knafeh

  • ½ 16 ounce box shredded phyllo dough (kataifi), thawed
  • ½ cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 stick butter melted

Instructions

  • Preheat an oven to 375°F. Grease a round 11-inch pan.
  • Make the simple syrup, combine the water, sugar and lemon slices in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is thickened but still clear colored, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat, add the rose water, and set aside to cool.
  • Use a food processor to chop the shredded phyllo dough into smaller pieces. Transfer the phyllo dough into a large mixing bowl. Pour the butter into the bowl. Use your hands to mix the butter with the dough, rubbing handfuls of the dough between your palms.
  • In another large bowl, mix together the ricotta, mozzarella and sugar.
  • Evenly spread the buttered phyllo dough into the prepared pan and firmly press it into the bottom and edges. Spread the cheese mixture onto the dough, leaving the edges around the pan empty.
  • Bake in the preheated oven until the cheese is slightly golden and the edges of dough are brown and bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Remove the Knafeh from the oven. Place a large platter or baking sheet over the baking dish. Using oven mitts, carefully invert the baking dish onto the platter so the phyllo is on top. Pour the syrup over the Knafeh. Cut into pieces and serve while hot.

Notes

Storage: Put leftovers in a sealable container, and store them in the refrigerator for up to a week. You can eat the leftovers cold, or reheat them in the oven to maintain the crunch of the crust.
Sourcing: You can find the shredded phyllo dough at Middle Eastern markets, natural-foods stores or even in large supermarkets, often located with other Middle Eastern ingredients.

Nutrition

Calories: 276kcal, Carbohydrates: 40g, Protein: 9g, Fat: 9g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Cholesterol: 30mg, Sodium: 259mg, Potassium: 53mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 32g, Vitamin A: 258IU, Vitamin C: 2mg, Calcium: 175mg, Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information provided is an estimate. It will vary based on cooking method and specific ingredients used.

Course: Dessert

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Comments

  1. Sarah says:

    Do you think I can use peyniri white cheese if I can’t get akawi cheese and mix it with fresh mozzarella cheese to make kanafa??

    1. Yumna says:

      I’ve never made it with peyniri cheese but it looks like a good melty white cheese so I think that will work well with knafeh! Enjoy 🙂

  2. Virginia Jerro says:

    Can you prepare this dessert and freeze uncooked. Then defrost and bake in oven, etc. I dont have the time to make it before I have company.

    1. Yumna says:

      There are a couple of options to make this Middle Eastern dessert ahead of time. You can assemble the dish the day before and keep it covered in the fridge and then bake it right before serving. You can also bake the whole dish, let it cool, and the keep covered in the fridge for a day or two. You can serve cold or reheat gently in the oven.

  3. Rachel says:

    How many people does the 1x feed? Sorry if I didn’t see it and it’s listed somewhere but couldn’t find it. Thanks!!

    1. Yumna says:

      One batch serves about 8 people. Enjoy!

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